Saturday, November 5, 2011

How I got Cheated Out of the Nobel Prize

Two weeks ago I wrote about how I almost won the Nobel Prize. Now I have to come clean and tell you what went wrong. You may remember that I had just come up with a way to explain the Compton Effect without photons. It’s actually a really straightforward application of wave-on-wave interactions. I’d been trying to think of an explanation for about ten years without success. I think the reason I couldn’t do it was I was trying to build on my earlier success with explaining the photo-electric effect. In that case, the key was to look at the superposition of the two electron wave functions, before and after, and match the frequency of that superposition with the frequency of the driving e-m wave.

The Compton effect is entirely different! You don’t match up frequencies, you match up wavelengths. The “before” and “after” electron wave functions are simply a plane wave moving to the right, and a plane wave moving to the left. There is no frequency involved because the energies of the incoming and outgoing electrons are the same. But the superposition sets up a standing wave of charge, and it’s the wavelength that interacts strongly with an e-m wave. It works because in quantum mechanics, wavelength is momentum: so an electron interacts with a “photon” whent they have the same wavelength. The only thing to remember is you don’t need to parcel your light up into “photons”: it works because of the wavelength relationship, and that’s all you need.

You can imagine that people told me I was a quack when I tried to tell them about this. It was obviously wrong, way out in left field, nonsense, you name it. I didn’t mind because I knew my day would come. The analysis was correct, and some day the world would recognize it.

This went on for about six months until disaster struck. I was browsing articles on the internet one day and I stumbled across a paper by a fellow named Strnad. His paper was about Schroedinger’s 1927 explanation of the Compton Effect. I started reading with disbelief: Schroedinger’s explanation was my explanation.

Did the naysayers change their tune? Yes they did, without missing a stride. One day it was “nonsense, garbage, quackery” and the next day is “been done before, nothing new, everybody knows that already”. Either way, the bottom line was clear. I’m not getting the Nobel Prize after all.

By the way, Strnad had a peculiar take on the whole question. While he agreed with Schroedinger’s description, he didn’t think it should be taught to students. “It’s important not to confuse them about the existence of photons.” (I’m paraphrasing.) It seems if the students were exposed to Schroedinger’s ideas, it might shake their faith in what their professors are telling them.

I have to wonder why someone would say that’s a bad thing.

1 comment:

József Vass said...

I think you should still write a paper about your explanation of the photoelectric effect, and back it up with Schroedinger's / your method of explaining the Compton effect.

I think you weren't cheated out of anything btw. This happens all the time, and you have to see the good in it. You did extend Schroedinger's thoughts, right?

I think it's your duty to rekindle his ideas, and promote them along with yours. This would make a great paper.